Herald: Anxiety and panic disorders
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Anxiety and panic disorders

10 Jul 2017 06:07am IST
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10 Jul 2017 06:07am IST

“Anxiety and panic disorders” come as a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe satisfactorily. You may feel like you’re dying or going crazy. In “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” you have unnecessary fears about simple, everyday things, like money, health, family, or work. You expect the worst, even when there seems to be little to worry about. This kind of worry may be hard to control for months at a time. It can affect your sleep and concentration, and it may leave you feeling tired and irritable. In “Social Anxiety Disorder” you’re terrified of humbling yourself in any social situation. It can make your professional and romantic life difficult. In the worst-case scenario you may head for a “Panic Disorder” when a sudden rush of intense anxiety comes out of nowhere, anytime, even while you’re asleep. 

Even a cursory historical survey suggests that we are more stressed than our predecessors. The traumas and dangers faced by modern society are far too many. Today there’s the apocalyptic fear of the future that leads to stress and anxiety which is the inevitable result of the psychological pressures generated by the unfettered growth of industrial and technological capitalism and the emergence of terrorism and fundamentalism. Fear hangs in the precincts of your home and the air of the streets. Fear walks through the city -- fear without name, without shape. Men/women feel it though few dare speak about it. People everywhere are worried about being victims of terrorism and crime. Mass shootings form a constant drumbeat. Fear pervades human lives more than ever in today’s world. 

It was not for nothing that Donald Trump won a hard-fought electoral battle by speaking to Americans the language they easily understood. Trump, from his election days, became the “master of fear” invoking it in concrete and abstract ways, summoning and validating it. More than most politicians, he grasped and channeled the fear through the American electorate and succeeded! 

What is happening in our country? There’s an all-pervading atmosphere of fear that takes a heavy toll leading to anxiety and panic. The national and internal security of our country following three years of rule by PM Modi is worse than ever, posing a great risk to democracy. There’s growing concern over incidents of “vigilantism” in the country. One remembers with horror the lynched bodies of two Muslim cattle traders found hanging from a tree in Jharkhand. Swarming armed perpetrators chasing helpless individuals are recurrent images that craft the new language and pattern of violence. Sadly, in our country, there is want of initiative to convert the real and legitimate aspirations of people into hope and the sincere desire to draw every Indian into a position where they consider themselves as stakeholders in a process of peace, stability and development. Public rhetoric and flowery statements by Modi in India and abroad are the order of the day, but the ground realities leave us petrified.

Ramchandra Guha, the world-renowned historian and biographer, bluntly says “India today is a democracy in name only.” He further asks, “What will be the consequences for democracy and nationhood of the political dominance of the BJP, and of the personal dominance within the BJP of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah? “The first thing to remember about Modi and Shah,” he asserts, “is that they have no real commitment to democracy beyond winning elections. As demonstrated, first in Gujarat and now at the national level, they have contempt for the legislature and for the media, two institutions that are meant to hold governments and politicians to account. Disregarding Parliament, Modi and Shah also seek to undermine the autonomy of other key institutions of Indian democracy, such as the judiciary and even the Army. They wish to control and manipulate regulatory institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, and to make them instruments of the ruling party. Modi and Shah have an impoverished understanding of democracy and democratic procedure. And they have no commitment to religious pluralism either. The dismal state of the Opposition means that regrettably the BJP is likely to win the next general elections too.”

There’s no doubt that people cutting across castes and creeds in today’s India are seized with anxiety, fear and panic. When people come to my clinic for counseling, I feel sorry that I have no mundane solution to offer. Yet, seized myself with fear, I put a bold front and give them “hope” with an extract from my favourite reflection from the Bible Diary: “Do not fear”. “Scripture scholars tell us that these words or their equivalents occur 365 times in the Bible. Every day brings its fear: the fear of speaking the truth; the fear of standing alone, the fear of confronting a dictatorial authority, the fear to meet head-on an overwhelming majority of fanatics on the rampage, the fear of  advancing years, the fear of death, the fear of fear itself.“

Maybe that’s why even at the risk of sounding pious, I choose to remind my counselees, to rest their fears in the thought that God is always in control. Alas, we must suffer first! Only then the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory, will himself restore us.

(Dr. Francisco Colaço is a seniormost consulting physician, pioneer of Echocardiography in Goa.)

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